Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Day That Hollyweed Happened

Douglas Finegood thought the Hollywood sign should say "Hollyween" for Halloween, but that project was never realized. The man who first altered the iconic sign to say "Hollyweed" on January 1, 1976 died of multiple melonoma at the age of 52 in 2007.

An art student at CalState Northridge, Finegood conceived of the worthy, weedy project as part of an assignment about working with scale. He got an "A".

"For a long time, he had this idea that if you just changed the two O's you could change the whole meaning of the sign," his wife Bonnie told the LA Times. He chose to make the alteration to celebrate California's law decriminalizing marijuana, which took effect on the morning Algelinos awoke to the altered reality.

Finegood made a scale model, enlisted three friends to help and spent about $50 on materials. Using only stones and rope, they hung sheets as if they were hoisting sails. The image was seen around the world and clinched Finegood's relationship with his future wife when she appreciated his effort.

Objecting to being called "vandals" in a 1983 letter to the Times, Finegood and his comrades wrote, "An artist's role throughout history has been to create representations of the culture he exists in. By hanging four relatively small pieces of fabric on the landmark, we were able to change people's perception of the Hollywood Sign."

According to the Times, Finegood obscured consonants to coin "Holywood" for Easter later in 1976 and "Ollywood" to protest the hero worship of Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North during the Iran-Contra hearings in 1987. In his final round of wordplay, Finegood made a political statement against the Persian Gulf War by draping plastic sheeting over the 50-foot-high letters to form "Oil War" in 1990. But park rangers and police yanked down the plastic before sunrise, and almost no one saw Finegood's final work.

After the sign had been altered by others several more times, city officials beefed up security with a fence, alarms and eventually installed a closed-circuit surveillance system. As superagent Sue Mengers said of Hollywood in the '70s versus today, "We used to have fun."

Finegood's other concept, camouflaging the sign for April Fool's Day to make it seem as if it had vanished, also never happened.

Read more about Hollywood and marijuana.

UPDATE 2017: Another "vandal" brought back the Hollyweed sign on 1/1/2017 to celebrate the passage of Prop. 64 in California, legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use. 

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